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Betha Whitlow, Lee Marvin, and Dave Raczkowski

Once upon a time, a community member in East St. Louis was moving, but couldn’t take the household dog. The blue heeler/pit bull mix ended up at Gateway Pet Guardians last February, and it was difficult to find a family because of his struggles with separation anxiety and being crated. He had a hard time at the shelter, and the Gateway team rooted for him constantly, hoping to help match him with his forever family.

Meanwhile, Betha Whitlow and David Raczkowski were also having a challenging 2018. Raczkowski’s father passed away unexpectedly, and the family’s pit bull started declining in health – they lost him in November at age 15. Though the couple was mourning the loss of two important family members, Whitlow “recognized [they] had space in their hearts for a new dog.”

Whitlow was drawn to Gateway for two main reasons: the staff’s knowledge of the dogs in their care and how seriously they take the matchmaking process. She and her husband knew they were looking for an adult dog that was good with people, other dogs and cats. With that set of criteria, they were willing to handle other issues that potentially came with the dog.

Whitlow saw a dog named Mr. Bruno on Gateway’s website and immediately gravitated toward his expressive face and “giant bat ears.” She put in an application to do a weeklong trial with the pup, and they knew right away that he was a keeper. After 327 days at Gateway, the pup found his forever home.

“Though we thought he had severe separation anxiety, it seemed like he was just stressed out from a kennel environment,” Whitlow says. “He doesn’t mind when we leave and isn’t destructive.”

The couple decided to rename Mr. Bruno at the request of Raczkowski.

“My husband always wanted to name a dog Lee Marvin,” Whitlow says. “He was less ready to adopt than I was initially. I told him he could name the dog Lee Marvin, and it turns out it suits him well.”

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Lee Marvin didn’t have the easiest life before he came to Gateway or the Whitlow-Raczkowski family. He was abandoned twice and had been dumped on the side of the road with no food or water. When he first arrived at Gateway, he tested heartworm-positive and experienced all kinds of complications with the treatment. Whitlow says she admires his resiliency and often thinks about the journey he went on to get to their family.

“It’s amazing to watch him realize little pleasures like lying in the sun,” she says. “He’s super passionate about walks and loves car rides more than any dog I’ve ever met in my life. He likes to play with his rope and is currently in day training at No Leash Needed. He’s loving it and is so eager to please.”

Lee Marvin is also good with the family’s other four-legged friends.

“Our other dog, Ben, is 10,” Whitlow says. “While the energy match isn’t the same, they’re pretty inseparable. And our cat doesn’t mind him in the least.”

In the few months they’ve had him, Whitlow says Lee Marvin has been a total blessing for their family.

“He’s brought so much joy back into our house,” she says. “It was sad to come home and have that empty space, but Lee Marvin has more than filled it up – and he’s filled it up in his own way. We’re excited to give him the life he deserves.” 

For your own fairy-tail ending …

Gateway Pet Guardians

5321 Manchester Ave.

St. Louis, MO 63110

314-664-7398, gatewaypets.com

Robyn is LN's digital editor and a staff writer. Proud alumna of Notre Dame High School in St. Louis and Eastern Illinois University. Avid coffee drinker, dog lover, concertgoer and word nerd.